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Stewart storms to Martinsville win on way to Cup

Tony Stewart has traditionally been a slow starter each season.  This season he really outdid himself.  Coming into the Chase for the Sprint Cup this season “Smoke” had yet to win a race. During the media tour the Chase drivers went on prior to the first Chase race at Chicago, Stewart rather bluntly said, “He was just taking up a meaningless spot in the Chase and had no shot at winning the title.”

Seven races and three wins later Tony Stewart heads to Texas just 8 points behind series points leader Carl Edwards. He moved into second place in dramatic fashion, with a daring outside pass of race leader Jimmie Johnson just two laps from the end of the race. In victory lane Stewart threw down the gauntlet to Edwards saying it was going to be a

rough three weeks for Edwards.  For the fans it just doesn’t get any better than this. Edwards versus Stewart for all the marbles.

Heading into last Sunday’s Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Roush Fenway Racing found itself in an enviable position, occupying the top two spots in the Chase Standings, with four races remaining.  Carl Edwards held down the points lead, 4 points ahead of 2003 series champion Matt Kenseth.

Surprisingly, it’s the first time in Chase history that Roush Fenway Racing has held the top two spots in the points standing during the Chase.  Though most called the race at Talladega Superspeedway the wild card of the Chase, for Edwards and Kenseth Martinsville was looked on as the race that might be the deciding factor  between a title or “better luck next year.” Both Edwards and Kenseth have had mixed results in the past at Martinsville.  With just three races remaining the thought was that if they left the flat half mile track, it could be smooth sailing for the final three weeks.  Two of the final three races are at mile and half tracks, a favorite among the Roush Fenway crowd.  The current stable of Roush drivers are winless at Martinsville. Roush Racing  has four wins at Martinsville, you just have to go back a ways.  Mark Martin, now in his final year at Hendrick Motorsports, won twice at the circuit’s smallest venue in a Roush Racing Ford.  Current Richard Childress Racing driver Jeff Burton won once back when he drove for Jack Roush, and Kurt Busch added another win before he departed the Ford team.

Most of the conversation this past week has centered around Chad Knaus’s radio transmission to Jimmie Johnson before the start of the race at Talladega, and Knuas and Johnson’s attempts to defuse the latest speculation that Knaus was up to his old tricks again.  Well known for his, err creative engineering, Knaus radioed a message to Jimmie Johnson saying, “If you win the race, be sure you crack the rear bumper before you get to victory lane.  Got it?”  A race fan picked up the transmission on his scanner and has a copy of it.  From that point on the cheater stories ran rampant.  I heard several brief comments from Knaus and Johnson.  Each sounding more lame than the one before. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when they met with NASCAR’s Mike Helton and tried to explain away this deal with a straight face.

It doesn’t look good for Johnson’s chances of a sixth consecutive championship. Johnson went to Martinsville 50 points out of the lead after his second consecutive finish outside the top twenty.  Those 50 points translate to approximately 208 points under the old points system. Since 1975, the beginning of the current position based format the largest deficit overcome with four races to go was 144 points by Alan Kulwicki  in 1992. In the Chase for the Cup  era since 2004, the largest deficit overcome with four races to go was 53 points by Johnson in 2007. That equals roughly 13 points in the new points system.

Reach Pete at talkinracing.com

   

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